17 skip­pers, 17 boats, alone at sea for nine months. Theo Stocker was on the start­line as the yachts set off to take on the world

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Pic­tures Theo Stocker/christophe­favreau/nick Jaffe

Tak­ing on the world. The boats, the skip­pers and the at­mos­phere from the start line of the Golden Globe Race

Calm seas and a light breeze be­lied the ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenge ahead. As 17 small yachts sailed to­wards the hori­zon, 30,000 miles of sail­ing lay ahead of them. In boats un­der 36ft and at lit­tle more than 6 knots, this will mean close to nine months of iso­la­tion and en­durance.

The orig­i­nal Golden Globe Race was a gaunt­let thrown down by The Sun­day Times, not long af­ter Sir Fran­cis Chich­ester com­pleted his solo cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion, with one stop in Aus­tralia.

In 1968, Sir Robin Knox-john­ston won the Golden Globe Race and be­came the first per­son ever to sail non-stop solo around the world, at a time when as­tro­nauts had al­ready made it into space.

The Golden Globe Race 2018, which has shunned mod­ern tech­nol­ogy in favour of tra­di­tional sea­man­ship and mod­est cruis­ing boats, will re­quire no less re­mark­able skill, de­ter­mi­na­tion and luck to com­plete than the first race 50 years ago.

Just mak­ing it to the start line has, for many of the skip­pers, been an ex­haust­ing feat in it­self. Ab­hi­lash Tomy, the In­dian naval of­fi­cer who has built Thuriya, a replica of Suhaili (in In­dia, with In­dian tim­ber, as Sir Robin did), couldn’t wait for the start and a chance to rest. ‘My race fin­ishes at the start line. I’m re­ally tired!’ he told a press con­fer­ence. ‘I am go­ing to take the north At­lantic as a hol­i­day and to get used to the boat. I’ll get to the Equa­tor then I might think about rac­ing.’

Re­call­ing his own voy­age, Sir Robin Knoxjohn­ston was re­as­sur­ing, ‘It’ll be a great re­lief to see them all go. 80 per cent of the event is done be­fore the start – the rest is just sail­ing.’

His ad­vice for the skip­pers was sim­ple, ‘Once you’ve crossed the start­line, just set­tle down into it. Se­condly, look af­ter the boat. Fi­nally, if you’re think­ing about quit­ting, take a night to sleep on it be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion.’ In a race of at­tri­tion, keep­ing one­self func­tion­ing must come very high up the list of pri­or­i­ties.

While the race has stayed true to the orig­i­nal event in as many ways as pos­si­ble – cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing with just a sex­tant and a few cas­sette tapes is cer­tainly a chal­lenge – but it would be un­con­scionable to shun mod­ern safety aids en­tirely. This in­cludes AIS trans­mit­ters, radar re­flec­tors, SO­LAS lif­er­afts, emer­gency GPS units and sat­phones. The sailors are able to send 140-char­ac­ter mes­sages to race con­trol daily, but can­not re­ceive any­thing in re­turn. They will also make weekly satel­lite calls to race con­trol, but can­not make calls to any­one else.

This, along with the move to France, and rules that would have pro­hib­ited many of the boats from the 1968 event from tak­ing part, has led some to ques­tion whether the Golden Globe Race isn’t now a dif­fer­ent event en­tirely.

Founder and or­gan­iser Don Macin­tyre, was adamant, ‘This event cel­e­brates Sir Robin’s cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion 50 years ago, but we never said it would be ex­actly the same. We want to keep the event cost as low as pos­si­ble, but we are never go­ing to com­pro­mise on safety.’

Con­ceived as an event to be sailed in mod­est cruis­ing boats, Bri­tish sailor Er­tan Beskardes wanted his Rustler 36 to re­main as authen­tic as pos­si­ble.

‘This is one of the most hon­est boats in the fleet,’ he said. ‘I still have a shower and a toi­let that func­tions. Ev­ery­thing has re­mained the same as a cruis­ing boat. The only change was ad­ding the wa­ter­tight bulk­head for the race rules, which had to be glassed in, but it is re­versible.’

Aus­tralian Mark Sin­clair has sim­i­larly done as lit­tle to change his Lello 34 as pos­si­ble.

‘Ev­ery­thing is orig­i­nal, though we’ve strength­ened the hull where needed. My Aries has been round the world one and a half times al­ready, so we sent it for a ser­vice, but why buy some­thing new when some­thing old will do?’

Tak­ing a more com­pet­i­tive ap­proach, French­man and pro­fes­sional off­shore racer Philippe Péché has stripped his Rustler 36 of weight and com­plex­ity.

‘It was im­por­tant to me to keep the boat as sim­ple as pos­si­ble be­cause it’s a long race. Wear and tear will be big, and sim­ple means en­sur­ing less wear. It’s more phys­i­cal as I have to move around, but I am fit enough to do it.’ French solo sail­ing vet­eran Jean-luc van den Heede even went as far as chop­ping 1.5m off his mast.

‘Sail­ing in Bis­cay over the win­ter, I dis­cov­ered that I had to put a reef in very early and most of the time the top of the mast was just ex­tra weight. Un­for­tu­nately, I still have furl­ing sails be­cause I am too old. They keep it easy, but add a lot of weight.’

Iso­la­tion is one of the big­gest chal­lenges of the event and say­ing good­bye was hard

Ta­pio Le­hti­nen, a Whit­bread vet­eran from Fin­land, has even re­built his 1965 Gaia 36, a fore­run­ner of the Swan 36, from the foam-sand­wich hull up.

‘I didn’t want the hull to de­lam­i­nate dur­ing the pound­ing she’ll get. She now has full ring frames through­out, as well as lon­gi­tu­di­nal stringers and three wa­ter­tight bulk­heads in both the bow and stern to make her as tor­sion­ally stiff as pos­si­ble. The ex­tra weight has turned her into a sub­ma­rine though.’ Sim­i­larly, his rig has been de­signed to with­stand a cer­tain num­ber of pitch­polls, and dou­ble that num­ber of rolls. He wouldn’t say how many. He even has a com­pan­ion­way cap­sule from an off­shore power­boat. ‘In­side I have a seat­belt, and a foot­bar to steer the boat, with­out go­ing into the cock­pit.’

There will, how­ever, be a few lux­u­ries on board most boats. Péché is tak­ing enough wine for two glasses a week, while van den Heede has a more ex­ten­sive wine cel­lar from across France, and Gre­gor Mcguckin, from Ire­land, is tak­ing a keg of Irish whiskey on his Bis­cay 36 ketch. Le­hti­nen was look­ing for­ward to his five-vol­ume bi­og­ra­phy of Si­belius, ‘but I’m still de­bat­ing it as the boat is al­ready sink­ing with the weight’. Mark Sin­clair joked that he would be tak­ing crew, ‘My un­cle Rod passed away re­cently, but he’s on­board here with me, in a lit­tle con­tainer, wrapped in an en­sign. So I’m not alone!’

Iso­la­tion is clearly one of the big­gest chal­lenges of the event, and say­ing good­bye was hard. The skip­pers have grown close in the months lead­ing up to the start. They all went round to say good­bye to the oth­ers, and Le­hti­nen gave a few of them a play­ful kick up the back­side to send them on their way, be­fore ask­ing Knox-john­ston to do the same for him. Jean-luc van den Heede’s wife joked that she would now have eight months hol­i­day, while the young daugh­ter of An­toine Cousot, just old enough to un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing, was in­con­solable.

For Beskardes, the sup­port of his fam­ily was crit­i­cal. His wife, Arzu, ex­plained, ‘I knew this was go­ing to come when I mar­ried him, it was just a

mat­ter of when. I was ready from 24 years ago.

I am happy he is do­ing it,’ she said.

For Goodall, leav­ing fam­ily be­hind ap­peared hard, but de­par­ture was a wel­come re­lief from the at­ten­tion she and the other skip­pers have re­ceived.

At 0945, a RIB came and pulled An­toine Cousot’s bright green bows off the pon­toon and sent him on his way to the sound Bre­ton bag­pipes. A boat left ev­ery five min­utes af­ter that, un­til the pon­toons were empty save for the yel­low yacht of Ital­ian sailor Fran­scesco Cap­pel­letti, still des­per­ately scrab­bling to be ready to sail, in an echo of Alex Carozzo’s rush for the start in 1968. (He missed the dead­line so is out of the event, but will still sail the route).

With ties to the shore cut, the skip­pers solo at last. Thou­sands of spec­ta­tors lined the break­wa­ters out of Les Sables-d’olonne, wav­ing the skip­pers off with flags and ban­ners. One sign from the Irish con­tin­gent read, ‘You’re a good lad, Gre­gor’.

Clear of the har­bour, the skip­pers were met with a con­fu­sion of boats. Spec­ta­tors, fam­i­lies and me­dia in mo­tor­boats, yachts and small fer­ries ma­noeu­vred for a closer view, while gi­ant tri­marans, lo­cal Olon­noise fish­ing boats, the French Navy’s train­ing ship, the Belle Poule, and leg­ends of solo sail­ing, Gypsy Moth IV, Joshua and Suhaili all joined the melee. He­li­copters roared over­head. Some­where among them all were the 17 boats of the Golden Globe Race, or­ange-topped main­sails slat­ting in the tur­bu­lent wa­ter.

Aus­tralian com­peti­tors Mark Sin­clair and Kevin Fair­brother sailed past each other, ask­ing, ‘Where is the start line? Which way do we go?’ chuck­ling that this wouldn’t be the last time they asked that ques­tion dur­ing the race.

There was re­lief, how­ever, that the con­di­tions were be­nign. From her cock­pit, Goodall told the press boat, ‘I’m just glad it’s not a gale.’ Beskardes munched on a fresh crois­sant as he waited for the start, ‘a last taste of France’. Mark Slats, the huge Dutch­man, feigned dis­ap­point­ment that there was enough wind to make his gi­ant oars re­dun­dant. The weather would give the skip­pers the rest they needed.

Sud­denly, the rap­port of a canon rang out across the wa­ter, fired by Sir Robin Knox-john­ston from Suhaili. Fif­teen min­utes to the start. As the com­peti­tors con­gre­gated near what they hoped was the start, a Coast­guard ves­sel chased spec­ta­tor boats

Amidst the melee were 17 or­ange-topped main­sails, slat­ting in the tur­bu­lent wa­ter

clear of the course.

This was it then. The start of what they had each been an­tic­i­pat­ing for years. Ahead lay a great un­known. Given that only one com­peti­tor fin­ished in 1968, com­plet­ing the voy­age is by no means cer­tain, even for the nu­mer­ous pro­fes­sion­als in the race. Beskardes was philo­soph­i­cal about his chances:

‘I haven’t raced be­fore as I’ve worked for a liv­ing all my life,’ he said, with a twin­kle in his eye. ‘In ev­ery league, there is top, mid­dle and bot­tom tier. I am in the bot­tom tier. I will start and hope­fully I will fin­ish. Once I’m past Gi­bral­tar it’s all new cruis­ing ground for me.’

Even van den Heede, 72, took a mod­est view. ‘I was too young the first time and I am too old this time, but I am do­ing it any­way. It’s a race, so I’ll try to be as fast as pos­si­ble, but the first goal is sim­ply to ar­rive.’ Seen by many as the favourite for the race, Philippe Péché was in­tent on win­ning, but equally prag­matic.

‘Main­tain­ing a level of per­for­mance and tweak­ing the sails will keep my mind from wan­der­ing,’ he ex­plained. ‘Psy­cho­log­i­cally it’s a huge chal­lenge. Com­ing back to my loved ones is a big mo­ti­va­tion, and win­ning the event is the other.’ But, he quickly ad­mit­ted, ‘it’s a sail boat race and I’ve done enough of them to know that any­thing can hap­pen.’

It’s not just the skip­pers that have to be up to it, the boats do too, pointed out Se­bas­tian Pi­cault, Péché’s team cap­tain.

‘Firstly, the sails, their cut and set up will have a much big­ger in­flu­ence than any­one re­alises,’ he said. ‘Then there is wa­ter. They would be mad to leave the Dol­drums with­out enough wa­ter to make it round. Any­one who thinks they will col­lect rain­wa­ter en route is dream­ing – down south it’ll be com­ing hor­i­zon­tally.

Fi­nally, hav­ing a to­tally wa­ter­tight com­pan­ion­way hatch should have been a race stip­u­la­tion. If they get rolled, it’ll keep them

There was re­lief to be one skip­per, one boat, alone with the widen­ing hori­zon

safe. With­out it, even a small amount of wa­ter can do huge da­m­age down be­low.’

What­ever their de­ci­sions, the skip­pers are all in cruis­ing boats, a fact that thrilled Sir Robin Knoxjohn­ston. ‘This event is bring­ing sail­ing back to where it should be,’ he said. ‘It is en­abling or­di­nary sailors in or­di­nary boats. Most of these boats cost less than your av­er­age car­a­van, and that’s very ex­cit­ing.’

At least six com­peti­tors have al­ready bought their boats for the next edi­tion of the race in 2022. While some had hoped the event might re­turn to the UK, this now seems un­likely. Don Macin­tyre ex­plained, ‘The re­cep­tion and hos­pi­tal­ity in France has been fan­tas­tic. By June 2019 we will make a de­ci­sion as to where the next event will be held, but let’s just say that I don’t for­get my friends.’

Mark Sin­clair be­lieved the move to France has se­cured the event’s fu­ture, ‘Had it been run­ning in the UK it prob­a­bly would have gone through one edi­tion, but be­ing in France gives it the chance of go­ing on in per­pe­tu­ity. The French just get it.’

For now, the cur­rent skip­pers have to sur­vive and com­plete this edi­tion of the race.

As the canon smoke drifted away, the lead­ing boats set their largest head­sails, chang­ing gear from the cir­cus on land to order of sail­ing. Space grad­u­ally opened up around the yachts and mo­ments of quiet stretched into min­utes.

The he­li­copters re­turned to land, and one by one the spec­ta­tor fleet peeled off. Boats with fam­ily on board lin­gered un­til the last mo­ment be­fore turn­ing for the now-dis­tant shore­line. We turned back too, leav­ing the skip­pers with con­cen­tra­tion on their faces and a sense of peace, re­lief even, to be one skip­per, one boat, alone at last with the widen­ing hori­zon.

ABOVE: The skip­pers gather for one last photo call be­fore the start BE­LOW: Fin­nish sailor Ta­pio Le­hti­nen gath­ers his fam­ily for a group hug, be­fore fi­nally step­ping aboard

ABOVE: Ab­hi­lash Tomy sets sail in Thuriya BOT­TOM:Sir Robin Knox-john­ston (L) bids farewell to Nor­we­gian sailor Are Wiig

ABOVE:Amid a gag­gle of spec­ta­tors, Gre­gor Mcguckin (L) and Mark Sin­clair (R) cross the start line BE­LOW: Ta­pio Le­hti­nen and Er­tan Beskardes en­joy per­fect con­di­tions

ABOVE: Are Wiig on his OE32 un­der full sail BE­LOW: Susie Goodall gets into her stride across the start line

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